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Swiss firm: Don't use our drugs for US executions

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11:42 CET+01:00

Basel-based pharmaceuticals company Naari has issued an impassioned plea to the US state of Nebraska to return drugs that could be used to kill prisoners on death row. 

"Naari did not supply these medicines directly to the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services and is deeply opposed to the use of the medications in executions," CEO Prithi Kochhar wrote in a letter addressed to Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican. He also sent the letter to Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, the Journal Star newspaper reported.

Kochhar said he and other executives at Naari were shocked when they learned at the beginning of November that sodium thiopental, one of the anaesthetics the company produces, would be used to kill inmates sentenced to the death penalty.

It didn’t take long for Naari to ask for its drugs to be returned, arguing they had been purchased illegally by the State of Nebraska.

However, the director of the Nebraska Department of Corrections, Robert Houston, and state Attorney General's Office spokeswoman Shannon Kingery told the Journal Star that the 485 grams of sodium thiopental had been obtained legally. The drug was purchased for $5,411 (4,990 francs) and received on October 25th.

Naari, however, claims it was cheated by a middleman based in India, where the Swiss company produces the drug. Indian magazine Outlook reported that the middleman, Chris Harris, received free samples of the drug, which he said he planned to sell as an anaesthetic in Zambia. Kochhar explained in his letter that this was also his understanding of was to happen with the sample.

Instead, Harris allegedly sold the drug to Nebraska, even though Naari’s CEO wrote in his letter that the middleman “was not authorised to sell the product to the Nebraska Department of Corrections or to anyone else in the USA."

Sodium thiopental is one of three drugs used by Nebraska for lethal injections, the Journal Star reported. But the state has found it difficult to obtain the drug since the sole US manufacturer, Hospira Inc., ceased production last year, citing opposition to the death penalty, the newspaper said.

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Kochhar said his company shared that view. 

"This is an awful situation for us," he said in an email to the Journal Star. "We never intended for the product to reach the US and definitely not be used for executions."

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